The 685 Bees entered the i wireless Center as students Saturday afternoon but left as alumni after St. Ambrose University's graduation ceremony.
Commencement speaker Sister Barbara Moore encouraged graduates to make it a priority to help others and do the right thing.
"You will have many choices as you continue on your journey," she said. "These choices have consequences. Be compassionate, be kind, be loving."
She described her own journey of fighting for equal voting rights for blacks in Alabama in the 1965 Selma protest marches. Growing up, she explained to graduates, she remembers having to sit in the back of movie theaters and drink out of "colored only" drinking fountains.
Sister Moore was awarded an honorary degree in recognition of her religious career and efforts as a civil rights activist.
"Take from here a commitment to service and giving back to the community," St. Ambrose President Sister Joan Lescinski told graduates. "In that way, you honor our mission of enriching lives."
Sister Lescinski acknowledged many worked toward their degree while working or raising a family and encouraged graduates to continue to remember what is important in life.
"Thank and give thanks for those in your life who love and believe in you," she said. "Then you will be sure to know great happiness. Humble gratitude is a gift for both the giver and the receiver."
"Wherever life takes you, hold this thought close to your heart: Your connection with St. Ambrose does not end with receiving a diploma here today," Sister Lescinski said. "Being an Ambrosian will always be a part of who you are, and you will always be a part of St. Ambrose, a part we will hold very dear to our hearts."
Life is taking these graduates in many different directions as they leave the St. Ambrose campus.
Jennifer Arnold of Glenwood, Ill., will go on to graduate school. She graduated Saturday with a bachelor's degree in forensic psychology.
"I'm excited to encourage students to do the same thing I did," she said. "But I'm sad about leaving Ambrose. It's a beautiful community."
Graduate Mike Kubiesa plans to go back home to Elmhurst, Ill., and earn money to open his own Italian restaurant, but he'll miss the "tight-knit community and friends I've made."
However, he's "excited to take my knowledge and extend it," and plans to use his radio and television degree to someday get his own cooking show.
Meanwhile, Emilie Minteer will stay in the Quad-Cities and start working full-time for John Deere, putting to use her degree in industrial engineering.
"It's definitely a relief to be graduated," she said with a big smile on her face, noting that she won't miss having to pull all-nighters. "I never thought this day would actually come."
For journalism and radio and television major Sara Clifton, St. Ambrose has become like a second home, one that she's sad to leave behind.
"I'm going to miss everybody so much," she said with tears in her eyes. "It's really like a family so it's really hard to leave them all. But we've all completed our time and now it's time to do something new and exciting."
Ms. Clifton will continue to work part-time at WQAD and also do some freelance work. She's looking forward to having more free time to visit her friends, who will be spreading out across the country.